The Fourth Trimester
I know, I know. Usually a trimester consists of 3 parts, but every new parent will confirm that the fourth trimester is 100% a real thing. The first 3 months of your baby’s life are as weird, wonderful and traumatic on your body and mind as the full 9 months of pregnancy. The days are long but the weeks disappear in a blink. It’s very intense and never ending whilst being a blur all at the same time. It’s basically a non-stop roller coaster of contradictions!
[EDIT] Hello from the future (8 months on)! I’ve really been putting off hitting publish on this post as I knew it was going to be a hard one to share. As always, hindsight is a wonderful thing and now I feel a bit better about motherhood etc. BUT it doesn’t make the feelings that I had in the beginning any less valid or real, and so as hard as it is for me to read this back, I still wanted to share it. The early days of parenthood aren’t always as lovely as society makes out and that can be very isolating – Mum guilt is a real thing. I really didn’t enjoy those early weeks and felt bad about it, and then felt bad about feeling bad about it. And so if my experience can help, prepare or stop someone from feeling alone, then it makes it worth sharing in my opinion. It’s not perfect and I definitely haven’t figured out how to eloquently explain a lot of my feelings, but at this point I just need to get it off my chest.
In July 2019, 4 days after my due date, our baby finally made its entrance into the world. Say hello to Dylan! A few things about newborn Baby Dylan: He’s a big music fan – I didn’t realise how poor my nursery rhyme knowledge was! When we can’t remember the words we make them up to keep him happy and it’s working so far. He’s very alert – everyone comments on how aware he is of his surroundings. He’s not a snoozer – he doesn’t like to sleep too much just in case he misses out on something so naps are pretty short and infrequent.
Meeting Dylan. I didn’t have a rigid birth plan as I knew it was best to be open and go with the flow, but it’s safe to say that the birth didn’t go ‘to plan’. I know a lot of people like to read birth stories and I had thought about writing a post on it, but I’m just not ready to share it yet. In a nutshell; I went into Hospital for an induction on Monday, had Dylan (via forceps delivery in theatre) on Thursday and then spent the next week in hospital, separated from my newborn baby and very upset about it all. Let me explain…
Neonatal. The morning after the birth, Dylan was taken from the maternity ward to the neonatal unit with suspected Sepsis. After some tests, thankfully the doctors decided that it wasn’t Sepsis but an infection from my waters having been broken for more than 24 hours before he was born.
For the first 5 days we visited him in the neonatal unit whilst I was still a patient upstairs on the maternity ward. We had 24 hour access but it was really heartbreaking to be separated from him and every time I think about it I cry – I understand why he needed to be in the Neonatal unit but being away from him was hard. It kinda felt like we were borrowing a baby at that point. He didn’t feel like our baby/responsibility because the neonatal nurses looked after him and we dipped in where we could/felt like we were allowed to (hard to explain but sometimes it was a bit like asking permission to feed/change your own baby – the unit has their own routine which continues to care for the baby regardless of whether the parents show up or not). It’s really hard to explain.
Dylan being in the neonatal unit was the worst and the best thing at the same time. Obviously it was so horrible seeing him ill, with a feeding tube and we didn’t get to go home and settle into our newborn bubble like most families. BUT we also received so much amazing help, advice and care from the neonatal nurses. We had a gentle introduction into looking after a baby – had experts on hand to help us care for him and they didn’t even laugh at our poor attempts at changing the 1st nappy. And most importantly we had a healthy baby so even though I felt numb at the time, I knew we were lucky.
Breastfeeding. One of the really brilliant things to have come from our stay in the neonatal unit was the support I received with breastfeeding. Initially Dylan had to be tube fed, moving onto bottles and then breastfeeding was introduced later on so I didn’t know if it was going to work. The neonatal midwives were really amazing – they set me up to express whilst I couldn’t breastfeed, then helped me with positioning and gave me confidence to keep going. In the first week I really needed something to focus on and to bond with Dylan; I would pump whilst upstairs on the maternity ward listening to all the new babies crying (good for production apparently… also mental torture) and then take the milk down to the neonatal nurses for Dylan. Whilst all of the other new Mums on the ward had their babies next to them for feeds, I had alarms set to wake up and express before delivering the milk. Luckily I’d been sent the Medela Swing Flex electric pump to review which was great and it became my new essential accessory. I’m still working on a more specific breastfeeding post, so watch this space.
And we just kept going with it – Dylan loves boob (typical bloke) and decided that he didn’t want to take a bottle anymore so I didn’t have a choice really. We tried to re-introduce a bottle so that Jack could help with feeds but we gave up in the end as it was quite stressful for everyone involved and breastfeeding just seemed easier. Even though I had milk readily available whenever Dylan needed it, I’ve felt trapped by breastfeeding. It’s painted to be the holy grail of feeding your baby but as with everything, it comes with pros and cons. One of the hardest cons to deal with is the constant attachment – I can’t be very far from Dylan in case he’s hungry. It might sound selfish but everyone needs a bit of time to themselves and without it, things are hard.
Newborn Bubble. Finally home, I started to understand the term ‘newborn bubble’ because it really feels like you’re living in a bubble. You can’t concentrate on anything other than your baby; Are they hungry? Have they pooed? Is is nap time? I had no idea what day it was or what was happening in the outside world. When people came to visit I didn’t have much to say – luckily Dylan was a good distraction from my lack of conversation.
Paternity Leave. With our hospital stay longer than expected, we hadn’t been home long before Jack’s ‘paternity leave’ was finished and he was going back to work. In fact, he actually decided not to take ‘paternity leave’ because it made more sense financially to book it off as holiday. It’s crazy. 2 weeks is nowhere near long enough to get settled into parenthood – it was a total blur. Jack was itching to get back to work and back to normality (which I could totally understand) but I was scared to be on my own from 10am to 10pm. His first day back wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, but I still cried (crying everyday was the new norm). We slowly started to get into a loose routine on our own where simply getting dressed was a major achievement.
Going out vs staying in. I was stuck going round in circles; I needed to get outside for my sanity because being stuck inside was horrible but going outside was stressful and very draining. I was still getting to know/understand Dylan and he was quite unpredictable at times which made me nervous. I felt lonely and craved human interaction but at the same time tried to avoid people because life was easier without ‘interference’ from other people. Being in a new town didn’t help with this either – usually I would be out exploring, but with a baby I found it very hard and unprepared for the unknown. A few weeks in and I managed to get more confident going out but was still finding it very exhausting. I settled into a routine of one day in, one day out so that I had both time to rest and get my daily dose of Vitamin D/ social interaction.
The Wonder Weeks.
Babies are mysterious creatures. Obviously they can’t talk and tell us how they’re feeling or why they’re upset etc. It’s pretty frustrating as a parent, but it helps if you can try to understand their behaviour and we found the Wonder Weeks app really helpful for that. As babies grow and learn, their brain goes through different developmental ‘leaps’ which can affect their sleep, eating and general behaviour in both good ways and bad. Not everyone will believe it, but in such a weird experience (that’s parenthood) it’s nice to have some kind of reason for the otherwise unexplainable behaviour.
Lucky. I was really lucky as I endured minimal ‘damage’ and was waddling around just few hours after the birth. I know most women will probably scoff at that because for some the damage from birth is no joke but I narrowly escaped a C-section (which usually is an 8 week recovery) so I was just happy about that. Plus I also had a baby in a different part of the hospital so that was a big motivator for being up and about. I wasn’t in a huge amount of pain – I was sent home with a good supply of pain relief and some injections for my belly (which luckily Jack was on hand to help me with). Sure, I was a bit sore and my body felt weird but my back wasn’t aching anymore and my stitches had healed well. I’m so glad that I was able to move around almost as normal because that would have made my mental state a lot worse.
Exhausted. Absolutely knackered! You really don’t know the meaning of tired until you’re a new parent. I expected to be tired (thanks for all of those pre-baby snidey ‘sleep while you can’ remarks) but I was still surprised. It’s a whole new level of tiredness. You seem to have some adrenaline in the first few weeks but when that starts to wear off about week 8… ouch.
Weird. It took me ages to look in the mirror at my new body. I really missed my bump – I loved having a bump! My body didn’t really feel like my own anymore – it’s really hard to explain. All I knew was that my belly had really been stretched and now it was really deflated. Which leads me on to…
Stretch marks. I had a hard time with these. I knew I was going to have a lot – I’ve had stretch marks since my teens so obviously my skin is just prone to them. I wasn’t bothered by them before, but these were something else. There are a lot of Mums out there who say that they love their stretch marks and see them as marks of what their body survived – they’re really positive and it’s all very lovely lovely. Good for them, but I’m NOT one of those Mums. I remember looking in the mirror for the first time and thinking ‘My body is ruined’ whilst also feeling really bad for having those selfish thoughts. It’s not so much the look of the stretch marks but the way that they give texture to my skin – they’re so deep and scarring. No amount of people telling me that a postpartum body is beautiful can change my mind about them. I don’t like the stretch marks and that’s just how I feel.
Exhausted. There was so much happening and my brain was struggling to keep up. The lack of ‘proper’ sleep really took its toll. I was waking up every 3 hours through out the night to feed Dylan which meant that I struggled to function the following day. Even having visitors was too much hard work to hold a conversation. As someone who loves to keep busy, I found it really hard to have a mushy, slow brain that didn’t want to work. I wanted to get back to being me, but it felt impossible and therefore silly to put the unrealistic pressure on myself. I was having internal battles between the emotional and logic sides of my brain every day. Back and forth; admitting that I was struggling and I was a bad Mum for it, whilst also telling myself that it was ok to struggle. Exhausting!
Broken. The birth trauma and neonatal unit experience really affected me badly. I felt so stressed, emotional and out of my depth. For every good day it felt like there were 10 more bad days. It seemed like I was just about surviving, not really living. My life had changed in a lot of ways and I missed how it was before. I kept telling myself that everything was going to be ok and it was going to get better soon, but when hours feel like days, it’s really hard to imagine how things can change soon. I didn’t feel like myself at all and I often wondered if I was experiencing post natal depression. I wasn’t enjoying Mum-life as I found it very boring and monotonous. Jack was really supportive and looked after me but as much as he tried to understand, I knew he couldn’t fully (not his fault) and of course he was dealing with his own experience/journey as a new Dad. I tried to explain that although I loved Dylan, I wasn’t really loving being a Mum so far. And then felt really bad for thinking that, of course!
Hormonal. I think I cried everyday for the first 2 weeks and still quite a lot 3 months in. This is something I hadn’t really thought about and made me feel really rubbish, drained and helpless. Jack was concerned about me but sometimes a cry is just what you need to feel a bit better, eh? I discussed it with my new mum friends and they all felt similarly so I wasn’t too worried – just sad that I wasn’t having the magical time that I’d expected to. I felt a bit short changed on the ‘new mum life’ that society had sold to me. Why didn’t anyone talk about this? Where were all of the lovely cuddles? The overwhelming feels? Instead I just felt numb. Numb, tired and scared of the massive responsibility – looking after a tiny human.
Numb. During our pre-birth NCT classes the tutor had us discuss how we thought we might feel after the birth. She explained that often new parents don’t feel the expected overwhelming sense of love straight away and how this is totally normal. I didn’t fully understand what she meant at the time, but it wasn’t until Dylan was 20 weeks old (5 months!) that I looked at him and felt an overwhelming wave of love. Before this, I was so wrapped up in just getting through the day and making sure that I had done everything that he needed me to do. I realised that I hadn’t really felt anything other than sad for a long time.
Keep calm and carry on. We tried to carry on as normal when really it was too much, too soon. I missed London (and my old life) so we went into the city via 1 hour train journey for a few events. London is not exactly very baby friendly – I guess that’s why you generally don’t see many babies around! Rush hour on the overground with a screaming, hungry baby didn’t go down too well with the commuters and I felt too anxious to really enjoy the fun things we’d planned. We also went to stay with Emma & Josh in Margate for a few nights, which was nice but overwhelming. Instead of making me feel relaxed, it made me sad and realise how much my life had changed. It made me feel naive and like an idiot for kidding myself that I could just carry on as before because the reality was that I couldn’t do all of the things that I used to enjoy. Not in the same way. Not for now anyway.
Sorry if that was hard to read – it was hard to write! But as I mentioned, I felt it was important to share some honest words in case someone out there needs to read them. Becoming a new parent is scary and really hard – nothing can prepare you for it and you have no idea how you’re going to react to the challenges! All you can do is try to take each day as it comes, keep talking about how you feel and keep looking ahead to less tiring times.
8 months post birth and I feel like I’ve come a long way from the experiences I’ve shared above. Things aren’t perfect, but I do feel like finally the fog has lifted. We still have good and bad days of course – I think that’s just being a parent.